Stanford Study on Pain and the Brain Underway

Last updated: 07-11-2020

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Stanford Study on Pain and the Brain Underway

An interesting study on back pain and the brain is underway at Stanford, to help researchers understand how pain psychology classes and health education classes may improve back pain. It’s part of a $4 million National Institutes of Health clinical trial.

Editor’s Note – I’ve suffered from low back pain for four decades and know well how when an episode of pain flares up it impacts my mood, not to mention my ability to function, so I find this study particularly interesting.

Stanford’s Beth Darnall PhD and Sean Mackey MD, PhD are leading the study which they aim to better understand and more effectively treat chronic pain.

231 people with chronic law back pain who have a self-reported negative pain mindset are being enrolled in the study and randomized to treatment.  Some will undergo an eight-week Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) treatment that helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors.

Others may receive Dr. Darnall’s single-session pain-relief mindset class, which has shown promise for helping people develop adaptive brain entrainment skills – including calming the nervous system, developing ways to self-soothe when in pain, and steering the brain towards patterns of thoughts that are shown to confer pain relief.

There is growing awareness and data to suggest that negative pain mindset factors alter brain functioning and even the structure of the brain. But effective psychological treatment can reverse these negative impacts and give people back a critical level of control over their persistent pain.

Researchers hope to show that Dr. Darnall’s class can effectively reduce negative pain mindset (“pain catastrophizing”) and equip participants with the skills to better control their own experience, and reduce pain and suffering. A single session pain-relief mindset class would help improve access to psychological treatment for pain.

Study participants must be between 18 and 70 years old, fluent in English and able to attend a screening session and up to eight sessions at the Stanford Neuroscience and Pain Lab in Palo Alto, California.

Even when you have low back pain that is being medically treated, it helps to understand the psychological factors that impact your pain — and your brain. It also helps to know what you can do about this. The study is funded by the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).


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